More than 180,000 on police DNA database

MORE than 180,000 people have had their genetic profiles placed on the national DNA database by police in Essex and Suffolk, it has emerged.

Roddy Ashworth

MORE than 180,000 people have had their genetic profiles placed on the national DNA database by police in Essex and Suffolk, it has emerged.

The controversial personal information, which contains detailed data about potential offenders, is kept to try and identify suspects from material left at suspected crime scenes.

But some groups have claimed that, although useful to the police, holding on to the information - especially from those not convicted of any crime - constitutes a breach of civil liberties.

The figures were revealed in a parliamentary answer given to a question asked by Lord Hanningfield in his role as a Conservative peer at Westminster.

Lord Hanningfield, who is also leader of Essex County Council, asked Home Office Secretary Lord West of Spithead for a breakdown of the number of samples from people in the East of England held on the national DNA database.

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It emerged that in Suffolk 52,275 entries have been submitted to the database and that in Essex, which has a larger population, 140,103 have been catalogued.

However, as many as 13 per cent of these profiles could be replicas of each other, due to some suspects giving false names or different versions of their names, Lord West said in his written answer.

A total of 5,208,988 profiles from England and Wales are stored on the database.

DNA evidence has been instrumental in tracking down a number of high-profile criminals, including Suffolk serial killer Steve Wright, who was jailed last year for the murder of five women who worked as prostitutes in Ipswich.

Yesterday, Lord Hanningfield said that although he recognised the use of DNA profiling in tracking down offenders, he had some concerns that samples taken from suspects who were later cleared of any crime remained on the database.

“I was a bit surprised at the numbers. As someone who believes in personal freedom, I am a bit worried about this creeping state control,” he said yesterday.

Essex Police, however, defended the practice.

“Several cold cases have been solved when individuals have been arrested and their DNA matched with that left at the scene of a previous crime,” a spokesman said.

A Suffolk police spokesman said: “This national legislation helps police link offenders to crime scenes by matching DNA profiles that have been stored in the National DNA database to DNA samples taken from crime scenes or suspects.

“It is a useful tool in the fight against crime and it can also be used to eliminate suspects from inquiries.”

A spokeswoman for human rights group Liberty said: “Our DNA database is at least five times larger than those of European countries, yet our crime rates are remarkably the same.

“A smaller, more targeted database of serious sexual and violent offenders would cost less to our purses and our privacy.”